By Ryan L.
As someone who has spent much of his adolescence playing competitive sport, I have witnessed a number of parents getting into altercations with coaches, officials, and even other parents. In most cases, these outraged parents had no justifiable reason for their behavior; they also did not understand the negative effect that they could have had on their child’s development when doing so. In order to foster positive youth development through competitive sport, parents must be made aware of the effects that their actions can have on their children. Whether it is at home, during a game, or on the way home from a game, parental involvement is paramount to ensuring an enjoyable sport experience for children.
Prior to finding a solution to negative parental involvement in competitive youth sport, we must first find out exactly how parents are behaving at their child’s sporting events. Holt, Tamminen, Black, Sehn, and Wall (2008) examined parents’ verbal reactions to their child’s performance in an under-12 soccer league. Results of the study found that 35% of comments were forms of encouragement, 35% were forms of instruction, and the other 30% consisted of neutral, negative, and derogatory comments (Holt et al., 2008). This means that more than half of comments from parents were either instructive or negative in some way; these children are not even 12 years old and they are already being put down or critiqued on their sport performance. Being surrounded by this negativity at such a young age puts children at serious risk of early sport dropout, which can drastically hinder their development as they approach adolescence. Goodman and James (2017) examined the views of both the parent and child with regards to parental involvement in soccer leagues ranging from 8-15 years old. Although children felt that the majority of their parents’ involvement was helpful, they mentioned that negative emotional responses from parents were very discouraging (Goodman & James, 2017). Now that we know how the majority of parents tend to behave in a competitive youth sport setting and how their behaviour can impact their child’s development, what can we do to address the issue?
As a coach of a competitive sports team, there are a number of actions that can be taken in order to ensure positive parental involvement, with the ultimate goal of fostering positive youth development. Prior to the start of a season, coaches should meet with parents and encourage them to be supportive of their children, as critiquing the child’s performance should be left to the coach. Parents should also be encouraged to call or meet privately with the coach about any issues that they may have; public altercations could potentially lead to bigger, unnecessary problems. As a league director, zero-tolerance policies should be implemented towards inappropriate behaviour during games, whether it be towards coaches, officials, or parents of opposing teams.
Although parents may be trying to help their child avoid the same mistakes that they made as young athletes themselves, they must realize that living through their child is not the correct way to support them. Empathizing with your child may come naturally, but should not cause you to get frustrated with them. Instead, parents should be supportive of their children and trust that the team coach will do their part in helping improve the child’s performance. Parental involvement in youth sport can significantly impact child development; whether this impact is positive or negative depends greatly on verbal interaction between the parent and child.
Goodman, M., & James, I. A. (2017). Parental involvement in young footballers’ development: A comparison of the opinions of children and their parents. Sport and Exercise Psychology Review, 13(1), 2-9.
Holt, N. L., Tamminen, K. A., Black, D. E., Sehn, Z. L., & Wall, M. P. (2008). Parental involvement in competitive youth sport settings. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 9(5), 663-685.